Matthew Sweeney's final collection featured in The Irish Times
‘Shadow of the Owl is both a vital continuation of Sweeney's poetic project and, perhaps more importantly, provides a guide for trying to uncover the strangely elusive quality his work has: what might best be described as an impenetrable transparency.’ – Daniel Fraser, Review 31
Matthew Sweeney’s final collection Shadow of the Owl was launched with an international online event hosted by Bloodaxe Books on 22 October 2020. Poets, friends and loved ones from around the world gathered to remember Matthew, to celebrate his life and poetry, and to read from the book. The event is now on YouTube here.
The posthumously published Shadow of the Owl is Matthew Sweeney's 13th collection, bringing together the poems he wrote during a year of debilitating illness. He died from Motor Neuron Disease in 2018 shortly after publishing My Life as a Painter, written before he became ill, but which was – like all his previous collections – preparation for this final work.
Shadow of the Owl is a Poetry Book Society Wild Card Choice for Winter 2020. PBS selector Anthony Anaxagorou discussed why he had chosen the book with Andrew McMillan on the PBS Instagram Book Club on 12 November 2020. Their discussion was livestreamed, but is available now on the PBS Instagram page here. First item (around 30 minutes’ long).
FEATURE COVERAGE IN THE IRISH TIMES
The Irish Times, Monday 7 December 2020
The Irish Times ran a piece by poet Mary Noonan on the genesis of the late Matthew Sweeney’s final collection Shadow of the Owl. Mary was Matthew Sweeney’s partner, and wrote the introduction to the book.
Read the feature here.
BOOKS OF THE YEAR
Sunday Independent, Books of the Year, Sunday 6 December 2020
Matthew Sweeney’s final collection Shadow of the Owl was one of poetry critic Paul Perry’s choices in the Sunday Independent's Books of the Year feature as chosen by their critics.
‘Shadow of the Owl by the much-loved Matthew Sweeney is another posthumously published title of note and contains moving poems of his final year living with illness.’ – Dr Paul Perry, Sunday Independent (Books of the Year 2020)
Read the feature here (scroll down to Poetry).
The Irish Times, Poetry Books of the Year, in print 12 December, online 15 December 2020
'In Shadow of the Owl, Matthew Sweeney's dark fabulism takes his readers right up to the mouth of death... Sweeney has never been so funny, the darkness never so seductive and terrifying as here in the stream of poems that poured out between his diagnosis with Motor Neuron Disease in 2017 and his death 10 months later.' - Martina Evans, The Irish Times (Poetry Books of 2020)
Read the feature here (available in full by subscription).
Fred Johnstone paid tribute to Matthew Sweeney in his review of this 'brave and affirming' final collection in Books Ireland. Read here.
‘Shadow of the Owl is both a vital continuation of Sweeney's poetic project and, perhaps more importantly, provides a guide for trying to uncover the strangely elusive quality his work has: what might best be described as an impenetrable transparency… a final clarifying of Sweeney's lifelong attentions, one which takes his funny, moving, and surprising poetic abilities to their zenith.’ – Daniel Fraser, Review 31
Read the review in full here.
Excellent joint review of ‘three strong new titles from the consistently brilliant Bloodaxe Books’ in Andy Croft’s 21st Poetry column in the Morning Star of 28 October: Neil Astley’s Staying Human anthology, Matthew Sweeney’s final collection Shadow of the Owl and W N Herbert’s The Wreck of the Fathership.
‘It’s a beautiful book, a reminder of the poet we have lost, and a courageous affirmation of the power of the imagination in the face of death.’ – Andy Croft, Morning Star [on Shadow of the Owl]
Read the full review here.
TRIBUTES TO MATTHEW SWEENEY
'...one of the most adventurous, life-enhancing and distinctive poets of his gifted generation.' – Bill Swainson paying tribute to the late Matthew Sweeney in The Guardian
'Matthew had the courage of his own idiosyncratic sensibility; nobody now writing has Matthew’s gift for employing language and images of fable to such a dark and unsettling effect, ringing the changes from tenderness to dark comedy with such power and verve.' – Theo Dorgan, paying tribute to Matthew Sweeney in The Irish Times
‘Matthew Sweeney has been a singular presence in Irish poetry for decades, and the much-travelled, Donegal-born poet had finished two reassuringly characteristic new books before his death in August. One of them, My Life as a Painter, includes many new signature poems, tales whose surprising images suddenly gather additional narrative force.’ – John McAuliffe, The Irish Times
Matthew Sweeney (1952-2018) was born in Lifford, Co. Donegal, Ireland. He moved to London in 1973 and studied at the Polytechnic of North London and the University of Freiburg. After living in Berlin and Timisoara for some years, he returned to Ireland and settled in Cork. He died in August 2018 from motor neurone disease.
His poetry collections include: A Dream of Maps (1981), A Round House (1983), The Lame Waltzer (1985) from Allison & Busby / Raven Arts Press; Blue Shoes (1989) and Cacti (1992) from Secker & Warburg; The Bridal Suite (1997), A Smell of Fish (2000), Selected Poems (2002), Sanctuary (2004) and Black Moon (2007) from Jonathan Cape; The Night Post: A Selection (Salt, 2010); Horse Music (2013), Inquisition Lane (2015), My Life as a Painter (2018) and Shadow of the Owl (2020) from Bloodaxe; and King of a Rainy Country (2018) from Arc, a book of prose poems set in Paris, and responding to Baudelaire’s Le Spleen de Paris.
Black Moon was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and for the Irish Times Poetry Now Award. Horse Music won the inaugural Pigott Poetry Prize in association with Listowel Writers’ Week, and is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Shadow of the Owl is a Poetry Book Society Wild Card Choice for Winter 2020. He also published editions of selected poems in Canada (Picnic on Ice, Vehicule Press, 2002) and two translated by Jan Wagner in Germany, Rosa Milch (Berlin Verlag, 2008) and Hund und Mond (Hanser Berlin, 2017). Jan Wagner’s German translation of Shadow of the Owl is forthcoming from Hanser Berlin.
He also published poetry for children, and edited The New Faber Book of Children's Poems (2003) and Walter De la Mare: Poems (2006) for Faber. He co-edited Emergency Kit: Poems for Strange Times (Faber, 1996) with Jo Shapcott; and co-wrote Writing Poetry (Teach Yourself series, Hodder, 1997) and the comic novel Death Comes for the Poets (Muswell Press, 2012) with John Hartley Williams.
[07 December 2020]